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Why do some half-kneeling ancient Greek archers not place their knee on the ground. One can see it on the vases (and on a few cylinder seals) but it is unambiguous on statues which have supports under the shin to keep the knee above the ground. My attempts to copy the technique were agonising. The issue is not huge but it does appear to have escaped notice before.

I can think of two possibilities.
1. the body and leg position was the result of the need of the archer for balance, stability or mobility in the specific moment of the battle.
2. the position might have been adopted for rapid shooting to the rear, as with some depictions of archers standing, but one picture shows an archer who has had time to hang his cloak on a nearby branch, which I thought not something that would happen in the heat of battle and wonder if the fact that he is nude might imply that he is taking part in some organised games, although archers could definitely be naked on the battlefield and there is no evidence of official archery contests on Archaic or Classical Greece. (the only surviving reference of an organised archery-game comes from Iliad.)

Neither possibility seems compelling.

Does anyone have any ideas as to how I might take it from here?

Stephen Lalor

ps. My thanks to Spyros Bakas and Karl Randall for their most informed comments on this issue.
3. The artist isn't depicting a photo-realistic rendition of the subject.

These things aren't photos. If you show the same subject to a hundred different artists, they are all going to draw something different. Some depictions will be more accurate than others.


What Dan wrote is certainly true. There's an interesting question that no one, to the best of my knowledge, has tried to answer, namely where ancient artists got their information from. It seems quite likely that they have their information based on what they heard or what others reenacted in front of them, or perhaps a few actually had some first-hand experience in combat, or based their depictions on what they had seen in games or contests. 

As regards Greek archers -- I make it a point in my book that most archers depicted in Greek art tend to have their arrows level with the ground; i.e. they don't shoot up in the air and over their compatriots, but they take careful aim, often kneeling in the process, pick a specific target, and then loose their arrow. In that sense, archers were more comparable to snipers. 

This is something you already see in the Iliad, for example when Teucer hides behind his half-brother Ajax's shield to shoot at the enemy. One exception is the Locrian contingent in the Iliad -- these are said to be remarkable because they *all* fought as archers and could also fight as slingers. They perhaps did loose their arrows in volleys. But elsewhere, archers are specialists that try to hit specific targets. As such, they would probably hang back and could indeed hang up their cloak, kneel, take aim, and then shoot. 

In Greek art of the Archaic period, kneeling archers are often shown mixed in with other troops. It seems likely that functioned like snipers as per the what we see in the Iliad. By the Classical period at least, archers seem to be formed into separate units, just like javelineers, peltasts, and so forth. Most likely, when part of a larger group, archers loosed their arrows in volleys. It's possible that such units came about under the influence of Greek encounters with the Persians.
Possibly, Greek archers were taught to fire a shot from a semi-kneeling stance immediately after stringing their bow. Bending the bow for stringing seems to have been done from a bent legged stance, as can be seen here:

Such a move might have evolved as a mark of martial skill, much as the samurai were taught to strike a blow directly from the act of drawing their swords.

I really wonder how historically accurate that drawing is, ei stringing the bow with a bent-legged stance. For one thing, the archer would lose his balance; and secondly, no archer in his right mind would stick one end of his bow in the dirt and then lean heavily enough upon it to string it. It takes a lot of pressure to string a war-bow. This would be an excellent method of damaging the tip of the weapon. We have a lot of various-accurate illustrations of bow-stringing methods (Scythian, Mongol, Korean), and none of these show the archer with one bow-end jabbed into the ground.

Just something to ponder. Rolleyes
The more usual 'Asiatic' method is shown on this Greek illustration, though the cap being worn probably indicates a non-Greek archer:

This method also produces a crouching position (which can be seen in other ancient illustrations), but, I think importantly, ends with the archer's leg within the strung bow. The archer then has to extract his leg. The method using the ground as a fixed point to lever against would result in the leg being free after stringing, allowing an immediate shot from a crouching position. That this would be advantageous in battle is moot, but a culture that invents a foot-race carrying a heavy bronze-faced shield could easily evolve archery competitions requiring this sort of "showy-move".

I suspect that the modern re-enactor, having shelled out a large amount of money to have a custom reproduction composite bow made, may unconsciously project onto an ancient archer a rather heightened degree of care for what was to him just a tool. The level of potential damage from using the ground as an anchor point would depend on the shape of the bow and the angle that the tip was presented at, and the nature of the ground itself.

Apparently, in the Hebrew Old Testament the word "ddrak", to tread, occurs in conjunction with the word for bow. This is interpreted as being the description of stringing a bow, implying that the bow was bent for stringing by being anchored under the foot. The use of the ground for leverage seems to be not confined to one culture.Treading the Bow, J. A. Emerton, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 53, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 465-486
Holy Mackerel, Martin!

You posted another inaccurate method of stringing a bow. Once again, the Greek artist was totally unfamiliar with archery in the world as we know it.

Here's the first method you posted. The archer is stringing his bow by using his knee-cap, an excellent way to poke out his eye because the bow will certainly slip from his knee. Also, no real leverage can be attained. Thirdly, even if he were successful he would destroy the tendons of his knee-cap within a week. And finally, this archer will lose his balance and topple to the ground.

Your second illustration, evidently depicting a Scythian (Amazon), shows a method completely devoid of any leverage at all. In other words, it would be physically impossible to string a bow using this stance.

Here is the real Scythian method for stringing a bow. The archer places one end of the bow under his knee with the other end on his other leg's thigh. This method produces the leverage needed to string a bow. This is historically and physically correct.

This is the most common method, and apparently goes back to Odysseus who needed heavy leverage to string his bow. Here, the archer tucks the lower bow-end against the bottom-front of his ankle. He steps "through" between the bow and string, places the strength of the bow against the back side of his thigh, and slides the string up the bow-shaft until it snaps into the notch. (Note the artist gets it wrong, as the archer holds the string outside and places it over the bow-end.) This method (when done correctly) can be used with heavy war-bows (50 lb draw or more), it's safe, and works best with composite bows. Greek bows were composite ones. In this method, like the real Scythian version, the end of the bow is not shoved into the dirt.

I'm not trying to insult you. But RAT members who are considering archery should know how to string a bow properly. Bows were not "tools" like grub-hoes shoved into the soil. It took longer to build a bow than a fine sword. Archers always took care of their bows, keeping them in a bow-case as protection. There is a difference between the real world of archery and artistic conception. Stringing a bow in the real world is much safer and easier when using mechanics of leverage and principles of physics. Wink
(12-23-2015, 10:27 AM)Urselius Wrote: [ -> ]The method using the ground as a fixed point to lever against would result in the leg being free after stringing, allowing an immediate shot from a crouching position. That this would be advantageous in battle is moot, but a culture that invents a foot-race carrying a heavy bronze-faced shield could easily evolve archery competitions requiring this sort of "showy-move".

Do you have a priori written examples of this "showy-move"?  I have never heard of an instance where an archer went into the fray with an unstrung bow, then stringing it at the battle-front. Any foot-archer in his right mind would string his bow just before falling into formation. If he was a "barbarian" (add your own ethnos--- Scythian, Sarmatian, Turk), his bow was already strung and cased before he swung into the saddle. Romance and showmanship might be fine for Hollywood, but not in the realism of actual battle.

You would be correct with the bow-end on the ground premise if the archer was a really ancient Egyptian or Middle Ages soldier. In both cases, these archers used "self bows" or "long bows" made from a single shaft of wood. Such a bow could be built with 2 day's labor. We have illustrations of your method, although from a standing position; and (again) its rather doubtful the bow was strung on the battlefront. (Such a method was also favored by 19th century women.) In contrast, the Greeks used composite bows. The design actually goes back to around 2,000 BCE with the initial introduction of bent-wood technology, made from sinew, a middle wood spline, and horn, a laminate fused with slow-drying fish glue. Such a bow required at least a month to create. They were not tools but prized weapons. Smile
I thought that we were discussing possible origins of the ancient Greek illustrations of archers loosing arrows from a half-kneeling position, not cast-iron certainties. I am putting forward hypotheses, that is all.

Please note a couple of pertinent things I said earlier, I doubted the usefulness on the battlefield of the possible firing from stringing move, then I hypothesised a form of sporting archery contest where this could be employed. What I said is completely true, the 'Scythian' method of stringing does leave you with one leg caught between the stave and bowstring, whilst the method illustrated in the three-person image would not. This is not a problem, except if a person was required to fire immediately after stringing the bow, whilst still crouching.

The 'knee and dirt stringing' method may be doubtful to you, but it is illustrated on a contemporary source, which should give it some pertinence.

I am astonished that you did not see that the image I linked to (the archer in the phrygian cap) is merely a preliminary stance to the crouching posture you have shown (the Scythian). Try crouching and then putting one foot over a bow stave; it  is much easier to do this standing and then crouch. Have a good look at the two illustrations in your post, they could be two frames in an animation!
Back to you, Martin

Yes, you are correct that illustration #2 is actually the "prelude" to the Scythian method of stringing a bow, so it's really an "artistic" projection of the moves required for stringing. You are presenting suppositions, whereas I'm inclined to look at hard fact... actually, hard fact upon the battlefield.

In the original post, Stephen Lalar pointed out, "My attempts to copy the technique are agonizing." Even worse, trying to string a bow by using your knee is dangerous. The result is constant failure because the shape of a human knee is rounded. Take a bow, any bow beyond that of a child, and try this method. It's a physical impossibility.

So, what I'm saying-- aside from artistic rendering, or half-kneeling as some form of self-induced handicap-- is nothing more than pragmatics. You can draw a picture of a Greek jumping to the moon, but the physicality of him actually reaching the moon becomes the Big Moot Point. Since we have a number of "half kneeling" illustrations, we know such an odd practice did exist. However, such theatrics would not be used in battle conditions where you're trying to keep the enemy from reaching you. The position is unsteady, wavering, and a waste of arrows.

I'll not argue the point any further. But I am concerned about safety. Bows are dangerous even to oneself. I caution anyone who might try stringing a bow by kneeling and using their knee. It's dangerous and will not work... and you could poke out your eye.
A self-bow admittedly, but it is an identical stance to that shown in the Greek archery practise image:

Do we know how powerful Greek bows were? Do we know whether Greek bows varied in power? Do we know if all Greek bows required the same stringing method?

Yes, bows are potentially dangerous to their operators.
(12-24-2015, 05:07 PM)Urselius Wrote: [ -> ]A self-bow admittedly, but it is an identical stance...

Do we know how powerful Greek bows were? Do we know whether Greek bows varied in power? Do we know if all Greek bows required the same stringing method?

Not an identical stance because the bow is actually just under the knee and on an oblique angle, not pulled directly at the chest or face.

We have a very good idea of how powerful Greek bows were-- they were intended to kill humans. Here in the U.S., the minimum legal strength of a bow used in deer hunting is 45 pounds. In a combat situation, 45 pounds would be considered too light. Most war bows were 55 pounds and upwards to 75 or 80 pounds, and Greek ones would be no less. Really heavy war bows were strung by sitting and using ones feet in the same manner as cocking a heavy crossbow.

Judging from the original illustration where we see an actual target (the cock), I'm inclined to think this was a form of game. If so, then very light bows may have been used. Please understand where I'm coming from, especially when I see a post where an individual has tried duplicating an extremely unsafe method of stringing a bow. At first, I didn't think about the dangers in using this method. Only when I knelt and tried visualizing it was I shocked! I'm an archery instructor and safety is an instructor's first concern.

PS: Take a break and have a Merry Christmas! Big Grin
I tried the kneeling position without knee on the ground today. It is actually a pretty natural position to shoot, at least a light bow. It is faster to kneel that way, and stand up again, and it is also how hopletes are shown bowing down, usually not with the knee on the ground.
By the way, look at this
[Image: indian-bow-arrow_zps5ec85ca0.jpg]